The road to success

How hard work and patience helped lift a bus conductor in Ilam to becoming an entrepreneur

Taxi entrepreneur Sushil Thapa believes that every job has dignity. His own life in which he has climbed up the career ladder starting as a bus conductor is proof of this.

It is a story that 37-year-old Sushil Thapa had been waiting all these years to tell his 13-year-old daughter, one that panned across episodes of his struggles before she was born.

When he was 22 years old, Thapa eloped with the love of his life, his college friend, Nisha Fago. Little did he know at that time that his family would disown him for marrying someone from a different ethnicity.

When he entered his home with his bride, his parents asked him to choose between his Limbu wife and them. He naturally chose the one he had already committed himself to for life.

“Being the only son in my family, I thought they would welcome us home. But instead, they asked us to leave. We left with nothing except a few kitchen utensils and a blanket,” says Thapa, still hurting from the memory of the way his parents treated him and his wife all those years ago.

In their journey together of being estranged from their respective families, Nisha and Sushil supported each other.

“She was the one reason that I managed to survive and she gave me a lot of confidence. And today, I tell everyone, my wife was the one behind my success story,” explains Thapa.

The newly-wed couple did not have any cash with them at the time, so Fago sold all her jewellery to start a small cosmetic shop in Ilam Bazar. The shop ran successfully for some time, but the couple had debt to pay off and eventually ended up selling their shop.

Plunged into financial hardship, Thapa and Fago were faced with the challenge of finding jobs. While college days were dotted with the memory of their romance, incomplete college degrees did not do much in terms of job prospects.

The only employment Thapa could find was to work as a bus conductor, something he did not want to do. But he had no choice.

“Society looks down on khalasi and it’s one of the most undesired jobs where you can easily be exploited. But I was determined to start somewhere to put food on the plate,” says Thapa, who recalls how he used to sleep in the bus during long journeys, earning barely Rs10 per day as allowance. He still managed to save money and could afford one meal a day for both himself and his wife.

In the months that followed, he learned to drive. When he found a job as an ambulance driver for a hospital, life started looking up.

The salary was good and there were other benefits. He was able to save some money and eventually, he bought a second-hand Maruti van and hired a driver to run his taxi service, while he continued working as an ambulance driver.

In a few years, he bought an off-road jeep and started running long route taxi service from Ilam to Kathmandu. His journey as an entrepreneur had begun.

“I learned a lot about how to become a taxi entrepreneur. I also managed to secure a loan to buy more jeeps that helped to increase our income. Today, our family is doing very well,” Thapa says.

He has managed to buy a piece of land in Damak, where he is planning to build a small house for his family. He has also saved money to buy insurance for his teen daughter and three-year-old son, so that they can use the insurance money for their college education after they grow up.

Thapa explains how during the most desperate times, people can become entrepreneurial.

Getting bank loans to buy vehicles to start taxi hiring service, has been a major risk. He says many taxi and ambulance drivers still do not want to take the risk of buying their own vehicles to start a business.

“Without risks, you can never hope to succeed and with emotional and moral support from my wife, I found the courage, and it has really paid off,” says Thapa. He adds that as an entrepreneur, one of things he has learnt is that maintaining a good relationship with his customers can be the key to success.

“You need discipline and respect for your customers even if they are very demanding so that they can keep coming back to you for service. Most of my customers call me based on my reputation and their word of mouth has helped to market my name,” says Thapa.

“At first, I thought the job of khalasi was degrading but I know it was a stepping stone for me to learn so much about the transport business and I am glad I started as a khalasi,” he says.

Thapa shared his story with his daughter only recently and he says she beamed with pride when she heard about how her parents had been through hard times and emerged successful. He wants his daughter to also become tough, face challenges and find a way to survive and become successful.

“Going to foreign countries for education or jobs should not always be our alternative. There are lots of opportunities in Nepal if you know how to tap into them. But of course, it takes time to become successful,” he says.

And he throws in a nugget of wisdom: “In our life, there is no work that we should be ashamed of. What we should be ashamed of is living as social parasites.”